Back pain is a very common condition affecting people of all ages. Generally, acute back pain improves in a few days or weeks. However, sometimes back pain can continue for long periods of time, becoming chronic.

Back pain can have a significant impact on many areas of life, including work, recreation, daily activities and social life. However, there are treatments that help to manage back pain and improve flexibility, strength and function.

What Should I Know About Back Pain?

Many people experience back pain at some point in their life; in fact, around 8 in 10 Australians have back pain at some point during their lifetime. The majority of sufferers are of working age, and both men and women are affected equally. Although back problems are more common in older adults, children as young as 8 can be affected.

For many, back pain comes on quickly and improves within three to six weeks, this is known as acute back pain. However, some people develop more persistent pain that lasts for more than three months, this is known as chronic back pain.

It’s important not to restrict movement too much when experiencing back pain. Keeping you back moving with slow and gentle movements is better than lying still. This will ensure you maintain strength and flexibility.

What is the Most Common Cause of Back Pain?

There are numerous structures in the back that can contribute to pain, including muscles, ligaments, nerves, bone and discs. A qualified physiotherapist will be able to determine the source of pain and the cause.

There are several common causes of back pain, such as:

  • Poor posture
  • A fall or a sudden awkward movement
  • An injury
  • Certain medical conditions such as arthritis
  • Repetitive heavy lifting
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Muscle tension
  • Stress

How Does Posture Affect Back Pain?

Poor posture is a common cause of back pain. Prolonged sitting, heavy or repeated lifting, and working in a bent forward position are all factors that commonly contribute to developing back problems. Maintaining good posture during these activities can help to prevent and improve back pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Back Pain?

Back pain can be experienced anywhere along the spine. In some cases, it may radiate to the legs. Back pain often causes some restriction to daily activities, such as lifting, bending, walking and sitting. Moving the torso may also be limited by back pain and there might be some tenderness in the joints of the spine. Back pain can occasionally cause reduced strength, reflexes and sensation in the legs, which may be a sign of nerve compression.

When Should I See My Physio About Back Pain?

Initially when you begin to experience back pain, taking pain relievers or applying heat may help. Taking it easy for a while is a good idea, however, it’s best to stay moderately active and avoid complete bed rest. If the pain prevents you from participating in normal daily activities, you should see a physio. You should also seek immediate medical care if you experience the following:

  • Back pain after trauma
  • Fever associated with back pain
  • Loss of strength
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant pain that does ease after lying down
  • Swelling of the back
  • Pain down the legs and below the knees
  • Numbness

What Treatments Are Available for Back Pain?

Acute back pain often resolves quickly with treatment. There is evidence that remaining active where possible is more beneficial for treating back pain compared to complete rest. For persistent or chronic back pain there are many treatment options available, including:

  • Medication – such as pain relievers in the short term
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy – for help to change unhealthy habits of behaving, thinking and feeling.
  • Physiotherapy

What Are the Benefits of Physiotherapy for Back Pain?

Physio is very effective in treating back pain. Physiotherapy aims to restore pain-free movement to patients and ensure these results are maintained over the long term. Physiotherapists use a range of techniques to achieve this, such as hands-on techniques, dry needling, exercise therapy and massage.

Physio for back pain can help to reduce the need for doctors’ visits. The sooner you seek treatment, the higher the chance of a quick recovery. Physiotherapy for back pain has many benefits, including:

  • Reducing pain and muscle tightness
  • Providing education and prevention measures
  • Restoring and increasing range of motion
  • Improving movement
  • Strengthening weak muscles
  • Improving healing time
  • Providing self-management skills
  • Allowing patients to return to activity safely and efficiently

What Exercises Help with Back Pain?

Core stability is one very important aspect when treating back pain, particularly lower back pain. Strengthening the core muscles can help to improve symptoms and avoid a recurrence. Physiotherapists tailor exercises specifically to the needs of each patient. Many patients suffering from lower back pain may benefit from clinical Pilates which focuses on core strength and stability.

Depending on your needs, your physio can prescribe exercises to help with back pain and also be used as preventative measures. Physiotherapists will often teach exercises that stretch and strengthen back muscles while increasing range of motion. Many of these exercises do not need special equipment and can also be completed at home.

Although exercises can be important to help with back pain, it’s important to understand why the pain is occurring in the first place. A physiotherapist will determine the specific cause of back pain before developing a program tailored to the patient’s needs. This ensures the best outcome possible and helps to reduce the risk of problems in the future.

Final Thoughts

Back pain is a common condition that affects many people of all ages. Acute back pain may resolve quickly; however, for some, chronic back pain can interfere with many areas of daily life and often benefit from physiotherapy. Research now shows that exercise is one of the most beneficial treatments for back pain. By remaining active where possible, you can prevent muscles from becoming weak and maintain flexibility. Physio for back pain is an effective treatment that aims to strengthen muscles, increase range of motion and improve overall function; which are all important aspects for treating back pain.

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